Well as unlikely as it may have seemed back on March 3rd when RSL started the 2013 season that the team with a fairly complete overhaul of their forward corps and loss of several key players, the reality is on December 7th they will be playing for MLS Cup. Coming off their 1-0 win last weekend at Portland, RSL has taken a few days off for the holidays to rest and recover before starting up practice again this weekend.
The break between the two legs of the conference finals and then a two week break between that and MLS Cup, means that both Chris Wingert and Alvaro Saborio are having a chance to recover from their injuries, both could return to action for MLS Cup, but I question if that would be the best move for the team. I think it will be hard for Jason Kreis to change much from the guys who played in the two legs of the conference finals, given the 4-2 home win and the 1-0 road win.
Much of the attention has been focused on RSL fans trying to find a way to get tickets to the match and the drama of TicketGate, where we saw SKC lie about a hacked ticket code, then pull back to saying it was a unreleased code, to finally admitting it was a valid code for SKC STM’s (season ticket holders) that was leaked and used by some RSL fans to secure a couple hundred tickets that were intended as supplemental tickets for their STM’s. I do get SKC being upset at the code being leaked, but given the fact that more tickets from their STM’s have ended up being scalped on the secondary market than were “compromised” to RSL fans the cancelling of tickets seems like a knee jerk over reaction. Ticket codes always leak and there will always be some who sell their tickets on the secondary market at inflated prices, it seems to me to lack much moral compass to be upset about one and respond by cancelling tickets, while doing nothing to deal with the scalping at outrageous prices.
One thing is clear that if MLS sticks with the idea of the team with the better record hosting MLS Cup (an idea I like) then they really need to account for offering more than 1,000 tickets to the opponent, which must then try to balance their staff needs, with player desires for tickets, with sponsors and VIPs, with their season ticket holders and then casual fans. I am not sure if the solution is to change the format of MLS Cup to match the conference semi finals and finals of a home and away series, or if the hosting team should move to a larger event that can truly allow all fans (home and visiting) to have reasonable access to the match. In KC that would likely mean a move to Arrowhead stadium, which could more than easily allow for 40-50,000 or more fans attend the match.
Once the dust all settles on the 7th and the match starts it should be an interesting one between two teams that simply don’t like each other much, and who play very different styles. Knowing it is MLS Cup, I expect that the officials will keep the cards in their pockets and whistle out of their mouth and that may provide a very distinct edge to Sporting, who lead the league in fouls committed with 511 as opposed to RSL which committed just 400. Sporting had 67 yellow cards but somehow only ended up with a single red card (yeah that doesn’t seem right does it), while RSL had 60 yellow cards and 6 red cards issued.
Of course that physical nature showed itself in the only match between the two teams this season, which saw 7 yellow cards (2 to Chris Wingert who was ejected in the 66th minute), there were 26 fouls (15 on SKC, 11 on RSL). That physical nature showed itself the entire match from the early foul by Chris Wingert on Kei Kamara to the late antics of Ike Opara, the match also had to deal with the very inconsistent and questionable officiating of Matthew Foerster (who would only officiate 2 more MLS matches all season). In the end SKC ended up with a 2-1 off a goal in the 7th minute of stoppage time (despite the 4th indicating 5 minutes), of course it was also a match that RSL played without Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, or Tony Beltran and with Aaron Maund at center back.
So how will the two sides match up with the Cup on the line? Even though Sporting will be the home team, I expect that RSL will be the team playing positive soccer, I look for Sporting to stick with physical style. You have to realize they had 11 players with 25 or more fouls committed, 5 with 35 or more, RSL had 6 players with 25 or more, and just one with 35 or more fouls committed. I do expect some goals to be scored as both sides have 9 players on their squads who scored multiple goals this season. I agree with a lot of the talking heads that cover MLS in saying that RSL may be in the better form having faced better opponents in the playoffs (LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers), while Sporting faced teams a bit weaker in New England and Houston. I will do a more detailed preview before the match, and will provide an update after RSL practice on Sunday.
That’s How I See It